About two years ago, Todd Drootin was sitting at his home in Encino, surfing on Napster and trading his music with other tech-happy, independent artists. While online, a man who went by the name Infoslut told Drootin about his mp3 label No Type.
“I’d never heard of it,” Drootin said. “The entire concept of an mp3 label was just out there to me. But he told me it was a cool thing, just a community that can get a lot of attention.”
Drootin, who releases and performs music under the moniker Books on Tape, released an EP on the label and received a respectable fan response, but more importantly, No Type planted the seed for his own label Subverseco, which now serves as a home for several other experimental artists. Drootin, a prototypical and self-described beat punk, was raised playing piano, drums and guitar, but the tech-age has turned him into more than just a rock musician.
“It’s certainly been an exciting time for music right now,” Drootin said. “The indie rockers are finally unafraid to be electronic.”
Drootin’s debut album, Throw Down Your Laptops - released just over a month ago - isn’t your typical electronic release; it was recorded live, which led to a distinct big-arena rock sound. But its frenetic sound, propelled by obscure samples and sequencers, signals a new direction for So Cal independent music.
Drootin’s break from traditional rock started about four years ago when he moved from a house to an apartment. He soon realized that he didn’t have room to put his drum kit. He bought a recording device, a sort of digital workstation, to play around on with a friend.
“We started to explore the possibilities of it, but we couldn’t just sit there and do this all day; we needed to be looping and stuff like that. He was a guitar player, I was a drummer, so those were crazy concepts for us back then,” Drootin said.
Ever the inquisitive musician, Drootin soon started to get into Los Angeles’ underground-hip hop scene.
“Eventually, we went in with a sampler, and the idea was that we were going to make hip-hop beats,” he said. “But it just so happened that two white kids from Santa Cruz didn’t have a shot in hell at making hip-hop beats for anybody but themselves.”
Turning to his own brand of spastic knob-twiddling, his live show gave him the recognition he needed, notably from his current non-mp3-based label Deathbomb Arc records. They were disappointed in Drootin’s first recordings and convinced him that the live atmosphere reflects the essence of his music’s charm.
As a result, a few of his tracks have been picked up by MTV’s “Real World.” Still, his particular approach to electronic music isn’t the kind that purists would fawn over.
“It keeps coming back to me that the people really taking interest in what I’m doing are people who are into more eclectic stuff, into rock and jazz and dub,” he said. “When I walk into Amoeba and I go to the techno section, those are not the people listening to my albums. I think it reflects the fact that I didn’t grow up listening to electronic music.”
That’s not to say he doesn’t have something to offer the so-called purists; Drootin’s approach may be wildly unconventional, but it has the spirit of rock and roll.
“You’ll see them - laptop users - lean over each other’s shoulders and go ‘check out this trick.’ Then they’ll hit Control+F or something. I don’t see the music in that,” he said. “When I (see) people taking their samplers and completely battering them and doing something totally wrong, that’s when my eyes light up.”
Books on Tape performs regularly in Southern California, check http://www.deathbombarc.com/ for recent dates.